A group of cells forms tissue. A group of tissues makes up an organ. A group of organs makes up a system. A group of systems makes up an animal/human organism.
I’ll never forget that lesson from Biology and it’s served me well in helping my child and myself improve and maintain our health.
You can’t have a healthy organism if a system is ailing. You can’t have a healthy system if organs are ailing. You can’t have healthy organs if the tissues are ailing. You can’t have healthy tissues if the cells are ailing.
Everything in our bodies is connected and everything is important. You can’t say that one system is more important than another. Can we survive without certain organs and glands? Yes of course – the appendix, the gallbladder, tonsils, and adenoids come to mind. But there are health consequences for removing those organs in terms of other organs and systems picking up the slack so to speak.
I’ve been thinking A LOT about the endocrine system lately – mostly because I think A LOT about chemicals and plastics that interrupt the natural system of the endocrine system. I’m very passionate about limiting chemical exposures and how that serves as a foundation for better health. When I talk to people about this it seems that they are either overwhelmed by the idea, don’t believe it because they aren’t “ailing” enough to feel it or it’s just too overwhelming to figure out what to do about it. So I’m writing this 3 part blog series to help with all of that.
I believe that we need to first know HOW ARE BODIES ARE SUPPOSED TO WORK before we can figure out if we’re ailing, why we’re ailing and what to do about it. So here is your crash course on the Endocrine system!
Your endocrine system is made up of both the glands that secrete chemical messengers, called hormones and the organs that detect and are affected by the hormones. Hormones regulate your internal environment by working with every other system in your body to coordinate and direct the activities of your cells.
In a nutshell, your endocrine system is a highly complex and nuanced communication system that affects all of your other systems, organs, and cells. Hormones impact major bodily functions like growth, sleep, body temperature, maturation, and metabolism.
Endocrine System Glands and Organs:
The hypothalamus, located in your brain, releases hormones that control hunger, thirst, body temperature and anger. The hypothalamus’ “releasing” hormones regulate the secretion of other hormones in your pituitary gland, which in turn affects other endocrine glands in your body. The hypothalamus’ “inhibiting” hormones, as the name implies, turns off the secretion of some of the hormones released from the pituitary.
The pituitary gland is located in your brain, directly under your hypothalamus. This gland is tiny, about the size of a pea, but it plays a large role in your endocrine system. The pituitary gland is composed of two lobes – the anterior (front) and posterior (rear), each of which produces different hormones.
Your pineal gland is in your brain. It secretes the hormone melatonin, which plays a role in your sleep-wake cycle.
Your thyroid glands, located on either side of your throat, secrete two hormones called thyroxine and triodothyronine. These hormones play a role in metabolism, body temperature, cell growth, and cell differentiation.
The parathyroid glands are tiny glands located at the back of your thyroid glands. They secrete parathyroid hormone which regulates your body’s levels of calcium, an important chemical that maintains the proper functioning of cells, and builds muscles and bones.
There are two adrenal glands, one located above each kidney. The adrenal glands are composed of two layers, an outer cortex, and an inner medulla. The cortex of the adrenal gland produces the hormones cortisol and aldosterone. Cortisol is released from the adrenal cortex when your body undergoes stress or exercise, and it aids in metabolism. Aldosterone regulates the levels of sodium in the body and this sodium, in turn, influences the amount of water in the body.
The medulla of the adrenal gland produces epinephrine and norepinephrine, which are also called adrenaline and noradrenaline. The primary hormone released during excitement or stress is epinephrine. This release is commonly known as an “adrenaline rush” and is an important part of your fight-or-flight response.
Your pancreas is connected to your small intestine where it secretes digestive juices to help break down foods. Its endocrine function is to control blood sugar levels by releasing the hormones insulin and glucagon, which work in opposition to one another. Insulin transports glucose from your bloodstream into your cells to feed them, thereby decreasing blood sugar levels. Glucagon, on the other hand, causes stored glucose from your cells and the liver to be released back into your bloodstream, raising your blood sugar levels.
The gonads refer to your reproductive organs. Male gonads are known as testes and female gonads are called ovaries. The testes secrete a hormone called testosterone, which stimulates the production of sperm and secondary male sex characteristics, such as the growth of facial and body hair. Testosterone also helps build muscle.
The ovaries secrete several hormones, namely estrogen and progesterone. Estrogen stimulates the maturation of eggs that reside in the ovaries. Together, estrogen and progesterone regulate breast development during puberty and the menstrual cycle.
Your thymus is located just behind your breastbone and secretes thymosins, which help to regulate immune function.
Just to make the endocrine system more complex, there are other endocrine tissues that release hormones although it is not their primary responsibility. These include:
Adipose (fat) – known to produce many different hormones that circulate throughout your body to help maintain homeostasis. For example, leptin is a hormone that is released from fat tissue after you eat a meal. It is responsible for telling the brain when you are full.
Kidneys – release erythropoietin, a hormone that tells your body to make more red blood cells. The kidneys also secrete an enzyme called renin, which stimulates the production of a hormone called angiotensin II. This hormone contracts the muscles of your arteries causing blood pressure to increase, and it stimulates the release of another hormone called aldosterone from the adrenal gland (mentioned above).
Heart – releases a hormone called natriuretic peptide. Breaking down the name, you can see how this hormone causes the body to get rid of sodium (“natri-”) in the urine (“-uretic”). Because water follows salt, when levels of this hormone increase your body responds by getting rid of excess water and your blood pressure decreases.
Whew – that is one hard-working system!!! For me, the beauty of the endocrine system is in how it is constantly monitoring itself and adjusting based on the communication and information it receives.
And just like other forms of communication, if there are breakdowns in the process – outcomes are affected. So what affects the communication within the Endocrine system? Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals and substances.
From Wikipedia: Endocrine disruptors are chemicals that can interfere with endocrine (or hormone) systems at certain doses. These disruptions can cause cancerous tumors, birth defects, and other developmental disorders.
These chemicals enter our bodies and then they MIMIC endocrine signaling. Let’s just call this endocrine FAKE NEWS. Once the FAKE NEWS gets out there, the organs and glands act in good faith that they need to ramp up production of hormones or stop production of hormones. Endocrine disruptors are incredibly harmful to humans.
Commonly, you may know these chemicals as: parabens, phthalates, fire retardants, pesticides, herbicides, lead, arsenic, mercury, non-stick surfaces on cookware, solvents found in paints/cleaning products/personal care products.
In Part 2 of this series, I’ll outline further how these endocrine-disrupting chemicals affect our bodies and development and identify the commonly used products that contain these chemicals “room by room” in a typical American household. In Part 3, I’ll outline the steps you can take to dramatically reduce your exposure to these chemicals and help repair your body’s natural and innate balance.